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A Real Doggy Dilemma
updated: Feb 16, 2013, 3:00 PM

Dear Poncho,

I have two male Yorkshire Terriers, Smokey and Charlie, who are about two years old. They're half brothers, having the same father, and up until four months ago they slept together, played with one another, and even ate and drank from the same bowls. 

After breeding Smokey we noticed that in certain situations he started to become upset with Charlie.   

We've taken them to our vet, who says there is nothing physically wrong with either dog. At our trainer's suggestion, we tried desensitizing them by placing each in his own crate, facing one another. They bark and go nuts trying to figure out how to get out of the crate to get to the other dog, so this hasn't really helped. 

It has now been close to four months, and both dogs are living in the same house, but in separate areas. They no longer can be in the same room, and if they actually see one another without warning they charge at each other aggressively. 

I'm about ready to give up. Please help!

Smokey and Charlie's Mother

# # # #

Dear Smokey and Charlie's Mom,

Wow, this is indeed quite a doggy dilemma you have on your hands. I'm sure this is a scenario you never imagined. Here are the four tenets of my Mutt Model:

Know Your Animals!

There's often an increased likelihood of aggressive behavior between intact males, especially those living under the same roof. You can check the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, ASPCA, website for more on inquisitive canines and aggression. If you haven't done so already, ask your vet about whether having both Smokey and Charlie neutered is an option. There's no guarantee, of course, but it could very well help. Plus, do you really want to make more dogs who have aggressive tendencies?

Whaddya Want?

You want a harmonious environment, right? Each dog should still have walks, outings, and play time with each family member. The only change in their routine should be that they are isolated from one another, unless you are in training mode. So figure out what you want from each dog, as an individual and as a sibling. Then, create a plan so you can reach those goals.

Manage Your Environment

Continue to keep the boys separated until you can work with a professional certified pet dog trainer or veterinary behaviorist who has experience with aggression cases similar to yours. One management tool is a plastic basket muzzle for Smokey, to help prevent biting. However, this should not take the place of training. A muzzle won't train Smokey to like Charlie, but it can help prevent an actual bite incident.

Reward. Reward. Reward.

You do mention that you've worked with a trainer, but it sounds like they suggested you use a technique called "flooding," as opposed to "desensitization." Depending on the animal, the anxiety- producing trigger, and the timing of rewards or punishments, flooding can actually make matters worse.

Right now, the mere sight of the other causes emotional turmoil-so more exposure isn't the answer. To reverse the hostility the dogs feel toward one another, you need to pair each dog with something the other dog loves. If you do this consistently, they'll eventually learn to once again love each other. A "slow and steady wins the race" plan will often get you to the finish line faster.

Think of it as you would learning to swim: First, look at a picture of a pool. Then, dip your baby toe in a kiddie pool. Progress to sitting in the shallow end, then wading, then walking around, then putting your face in the water for a split second, etc. I'm sure you'll agree that this method is much more effective- and less traumatic-than being shoved off the high-dive into the deep end. Like humans, dogs learn best in this incremental way, too.

Paws and Reflect

You've done the right thing by managing your environment. You certainly don't want your dogs behaving in ways you don't want, or being unnecessarily exposed to more stress. Because this situation has gone on for some time, doesn't seem to be improving, and appears to have put both dogs and humans at risk of injury, I'd highly recommend that you seek professional help to restore your happy canine home.


Poncho Mayer is a 10-pound inquisitive canine who knows a lot about human and canine behavior. He and his mom work together running the family business, providing dog-training services to other inquisitive canines and their humans. For additional training and behavior tips, subscribe to their blog.

Let's connect!




Got a question about behavior, training or daily pup life? Email Poncho directly.

Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)

 COMMENT 375157P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-16 04:47 PM



 COMMENT 375165 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-16 05:28 PM

Buy a 3rd dog - let's say a breed that can regulate the other two like a German Shepherd. Add a dominant member to the pack.


 COMMENT 375170 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-16 05:44 PM

Be the pack leader.Bite their ears when they fight, they will get the message. Be sure you have control of their heads if they like to bite you too.


 COMMENT 375175 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-16 05:56 PM

If they are not neutered this is quite typical and I am surprised your vet did not tell you that. I've been involved with dog breeding in the past and it is inevitable that at some point they will do this. If you don't, get used to it.


 COMMENT 375182 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-16 06:25 PM

Exercise,exercise, exercise... Dogs NEED to be walked DAILY.
It gets their ya-ya's out and keeps the owners from getting fat.


 FLICKA agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-17 07:51 AM

Males fight; horses, cats, roosters, etc. Unless they are champion show dogs whose genes will contribute greatly to the Yorkie breed (and make money for you), neutering is probably the best bet.


 COMMENT 375306 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-17 08:29 AM

Get them neutered!!!!!!


 COMMENT 375334 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-17 09:08 AM

Neuter them!! Don't you know what testosterone does to a breeding male? He wants to eliminate all competition, in this case his half brother. It may be too late to re-establish their previous relationship but if you don't neuter them, all of the other very complicated suggestions have little chance of success. You have to decide if you want the $$ from the stud fees or nice dogs to live with. I do agree that if you are a responsible breeder you should not breed an 'agressive' dog.


 COMMENT 375361P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-17 09:56 AM

Caesar Milan has devoted a few of his episodes to this type of problem. Don't know how/if they're available.


 COMMENT 375366 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-17 10:12 AM

I worked with Poncho's mom on the same problem with my two intact males. She and my husband and I worked diligently for several months and were able to get the dogs to tolerate each other using positive reinforcement. I highly recommend her as a trainer.


 COMMENT 375385 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-17 10:59 AM

8 o 5 895 59 68
This is the number of a dog "whisperer" in the area. I don't know very much about this person other than to say that the family that I know who used this persons service was very happy. They had issues when they added another dog to their family when their human son became ill and took his dog in for an extended period of time.


 COMMENT 375390P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-17 11:12 AM

Yikes, you're not recommending that delusional woman who writes a column for the Indy and claims to be a "pet psychic," are you??


 COMMENT 375457 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-17 01:56 PM

@ yikes I offered that I don't know anything about the pet psychic other than the satisfaction of the family that I know that used the service. Reading comprehension 101.


 COMMENT 375476P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-17 02:33 PM

385: "@Yikes?" Same advice to you. The fact that you refer to someone's "human son" is all one needs to consider re your endorsement. Directing people to these sorts of charlatans is not doing them any service.


 COMMENT 375491 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-17 03:25 PM

Ugh. I should have closed this page.
Reading comprehension 101. I didn't say I endorsed this person.
"Human son" was for clarification purposes. Many people refer to their dogs as their "children."
You're mean.


 COMMENT 376033 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-02-19 08:45 AM

I've been to two pet psychics, and one was obviously not communicating with our cat, but I have to say that the 2nd seemed to talk to our dog. He changed his behavior after the session for several weeks in order to let his knee rest. Prior to that he sprinted at every opportunity when he was off leash.

I think they are a lot like chiropractors, some are quacks or are not very good, and others can be helpful for some types of problems. Probably the skills that you would need to actually communicate with a pet don't come in very many people so you would have to get references for this.

I'm less quick to judge other people these days who have faith in things that I don't. LIve and let live?


31% of comments on this page were made by Edhat Community Members.


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